It can be said the Toronto Maple Leafs would not have won their NHL season-opener without goaltender Frederik Andersen. But it can also be said they showed the merciless streak they need to become a consistent contender.
The Winnipeg Jets, on the other hand, need to go back to the video machine for another look at that defensive game they thought they had patched up in training camp. Their new goaltender, Steve Mason, was not great in his debut in front of the home crowd but neither were his teammates, caught staring off into the distance too many times, as the Leafs rolled to a 7-2 win in the NHL season-opener for both teams.
The Jets did come out strafing the Leafs goal but Andersen was outstanding. His teammates did their best to sabotage Andersen as they still have not got a handle on the tougher officiating standards, particularly when it comes to equipment violations. The Leafs took four minor penalties in the first period, including one to Leo Komarov for wearing his visor too high, something he was warned about during the pre-season.
But Andersen kicked away 15 shots in the first 13 minutes and 37 on the night, as the Leafs slowly found their legs.
"It was pretty tough starting like that. We had a lot of penalties," said Leafs winger Mitch Marner, who finished with a goal and an assist. "It's kind of tough to get your feet under you. The first [game] is always pretty nice to get, especially playing a home opener against another team. Fred was unbelievable in the first period and we did what we needed on the next two."
It was also a nice night for winger Patrick Marleau, who scored two goals in his first game as a Maple Leaf. He had lots of company in the nice-night category, as his centre, Nazem Kadri, had a goal and an assist. Both Auston Matthews and James van Riemsdyk had a goal and two assists. William Nylander scored the other goal.
The first period was one of the strangest 20 minutes of hockey anyone will see. The Leafs managed to take four minor penalties, get outshot 17-10, run afoul of the new emphasis on equipment violations and still take a 3-0 lead to the second period. That took care of the normally intimidating crowd of 15,321, which was not even bothering to drown out the Go Leafs Go chants from the usual gaggle of visitors by the third period.
The Leafs penalty killers were just as sharp as Andersen. They were perfect in fact, going eight-for-eight on the Winnipeg power-play.
"It was kind of a weird game, so many penalties, not so much flow," Matthews said. "Our penalty kill came up huge for us. We scored when it counted."
Andersen was the most obvious reason for the good fortune. He was mesmerizing in the Leafs goal, frustrating the Jets on at least a dozen good scoring chances before the halfway point of the game. Mark Scheifle spoiled Andersen's shutout bid in the third period and Matthieu Perrault also scored.
"It was nice to get a good start," Andersen said. "Of course you want to try give them a chance to bounce back, especially in this building. It's tough to come in here. Once we got that out of the way we did a good job."
Down at the other end of the ice it was a different story. And not a good one for goaltender Steve Mason, who was making his debut as a Jet in front of the home fans. Getting pulled at home in your first game is not one for the scrapbook but Jets head coach Paul Maurice had to use the hook less than two minutes into the third period when Marleau scored his second goal to put the visitors up 5-0.
Before that, Mason let in three on 10 shots in the first period, although his teammates could share some of the blame. Kadri was allowed at least two whacks at a rebound for his goal. But the worst came late in the first period when all the Jets stood still at once and ignored Nylander, who was by himself at the side of the net. When Mason was slow to get over, Nylander had all the time he needed to scoop the puck in the open net.
Maurice laid the blame on his defence and forwards for the first-period collapse, not Mason.
"It doesn't take much for [the Leafs]. They finish the opportunities they have," he said. "First goal, [Mason] got bowled over by our own guy, the next one was a quick little deflection and he's not going to do anything on the third one.
"I think we did it to ourselves. The third goal was a reasonably easy read to make if you're thinking about defending at that point but we were thinking it was 2-0, let's get it back."
One thing the Leafs, or at least Leo Komarov, need to work on are the equipment violations. Komarov was warned about wearing his visor too high in the pre-season and was assessed a penalty for it then but drew yet one more in the first period. It's part of the league's mandate to enforce a stricter standard on some violations, especially where it concerns player safety.
Komarov joked he was "not going to win the Lady Byng" this year but said he thought his visor was low enough on his face to meet the standard. After an adjustment following the penalty it was approved by a referee.
Leafs head coach Mike Babcock didn't want to discuss the matter, saying with a laugh, "You're not supposed to ask me those. What's next?"